Thursday, April 8, 2010

Good Reader's Habit #1: Making Connections

Good readers are made, not born.

Their parents read to them often, for longer periods of time, starting at an early age. They have access to children's books and magazines. They often have a wider experience with different types of print media. And they all display certain habits as they read; habits that increase their ability to understand and apply the text.

These habits, too, are learned. They may learn them from their teachers -- many schools teach these habits now as a matter of course. But the habits aren't so highly specialized that a parent can't model them at home. And this is the key: if you model the habits for your child, your child will learn to internalize them and will rely on them all his or her life to help deconstruct and understand text.

The first habit that good readers exhibit is Making Connections. This simply means that the reader finds a point of relationship between what s/he is reading now and something s/he experienced earlier.

Connections can be further broken down by type:

Text to Text: something the child reads reminds him of something he read or saw in another book, article or story, or an audio or video edition of a story.

My 3 year old and I were reading the book Marshmallow last night, which is a story about a cat and a bunny. In it, there's a picture of the cat curled up in a cardboard box. I pointed out to her that he looked just like the cat in another book of hers called Ginger. "Yeah!" she agreed. Connection made.

Text to Self: something the child reads reminds her of a previous personal experience. This can be anything -- a character that reminds her of someone she knows, a setting she has visited (or that is similar to one she has visited), a topic that reminds her of something she's done or seen.

My 6 year old read a book called Daniel's Mystery Egg, in which the egg turns out to be a lizard. When he saw the final illustration, my son commented that this lizard didn't look at all like his cousin's lizard. He was making a connection with his personal experience of lizards and at the same time widening his understanding of what a lizard can look like.

Text to World: this is similar to text-to-self, except that the child is reminded of something in the wider world, not just his personal experiences. This can include settings, themes or messages, or events.

My 8 year old just finished a report on Coretta Scott King and is now very aware of civil rights. When she read a story about South Africa that mentioned apartheid, she was able to make a connection between apartheid and the American civil rights struggle. Her understanding of both concepts was enhanced.

Connections are very important, and some children are more adept at making them than others. My oldest is constantly saying "I have a connection to that..." to the point that it drives us bananas. However, she is a phenomenally competent reader and her ability to see connections to herself, other texts and the world is part of what makes her so successful. Other children need to have this habit modeled for them. My 3 year old didn't immediately see the similarity between the two cats in her books, but I pointed it out to her and made sure we read Ginger again the next night and pointed out the connection again, this time in reverse: "Doesn't Ginger in the box remind you of Oliver from Marshmallow?"

This may feel a little funny at first, but it gets easier and if you're a good reader yourself, it's probably something you're doing in your head anyway. You just need to do it out loud for your child so they can see it being done. "That basement is really dark and creepy, just like Grandma's. That puppy reminds me of the neighbor's dog -- do you remember when she was small? Hey, they have really tall trees out back just like we do! Boy, she sure asks a lot of questions, just like you do!" The connections don't have to be earth-shattering; they're just connections -- places where you can latch on to the story a little better.

Alternatively, you can do this with an older child by encouraging them to find their own connections: "What does this remind you of? Have you ever done anything like that? Who else do you know that tells jokes like that? That's really different from our vacation, but maybe you can think of a few things that are similar. I'm trying to remember if I've ever had to solve a mystery. Have you ever had to solve a mystery?"

You can start this at any age, but it's going to be easier with younger children as you read with them together more than you do with older kids. That being said, though, I am a firm believer in reading aloud to kids until they won't let you do it anymore. Even my 8-year old, who doesn't really need me to read to her at all, still listens to me read and I take those opportunities to reinforce the habits that have made her a good reader already.

Next Up: Good Readers' Habit #2: Visualizing

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